Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light

Linn Maxwell

The Spaces @ Surgeons Hall

A 12th-century German abbess and mystic would seem a most unlikely subject for a fringe musical, but award-winning US concert and opera mezzo-soprano Linn Maxwell triumphs with her one-woman show on Hildegard of Bingen, already a trans-American tour success.

Ecclesiastical-theme staging with lectern, tall candle-stand and altar-style table, and authentic convent garb, set the atmosphere. Subtly inter-weaving seven of Hildegard's Latin church compositions - which she accompanies with the delicate sounds of psaltery, symphonia and mediaeval harp - with lively narrative of her life and times, Maxwell gives a compellingly vivid evocation of one of the most remarkable churchwomen of the Middle Ages.

Her genius embraced running a monastery, music, authorship, ecclesiastical politics - she criticised popes and urged church reforms - and even preaching, when forbidden to women. Affirming a woman's role in the medieval Catholic Church, her driving force was her "visions", which she believed came from divine "Living Light".

Maxwell transports audiences back nine centuries with her exquisitely graceful renderings of Hildegard's sacred songs, wonderfully evoking the atmosphere of an age of faith. Yet her return also brings her very timely message of holistic healing and world peace. This very unusual work is a special gem.

Review by Brian G Cooper

Published online at 11:36 on Monday 09 August 2010
Published in The Stage Newspaper in the issue dated Thursday August 12, 2010